General Disclaimer and Salutations! I’m writing these RWBY Recap/Reviews from the point of view of somebody who is familiar with all previous RWBY media released by Rooster Teeth; which is including but certainly not limited to the character shorts and World of Remnant episodes. I have a Rooster Teeth First membership, so I will be discussing the events of the newly released episodes which are made available a week prior to YouTube only viewers. I expect the readers of my reviews to be current with RWBY’s storyline. Aspects and SPOILERS will be discussed from this volume, and volumes past.
If you haven’t watched RWBY before, don’t read this; go back and watch Volumes 1-4 either on their website or Rooster Teeth’s channel on YouTube. Both options are for FREE. Pirating this show is a spectacularly shameful display. Please support the official release.
End of Disclaimer
RWBY Volume 5 Episode 1: “Welcome to Haven”
The fifth volume of RWBY opens up as many season premieres do, with our characters walking through an underground tunnel named Exposition. In this case, Team RNJR, consisting of Ruby Rose (voiced by Lindsay Jones), Nora Valkyrie (voiced by Samantha Ireland), Jaune Arc (voiced by Miles Luna), and Lie Ren (voiced by Neath Oum) who are joined by Ruby’s uncle, Qrow Branwen (voiced by Vic Mignogna), have arrived in the Kingdom of Mistral. They briefly reminisce about Volume 4 in which Ruby mentions, “Only one of us [Qrow] almost died.” They laugh it off, with the surface level of bravado expected from young and powerful heroes. Their moment of bravado-fuelled levity comes off as hollow when taking into account the trials these characters have recently endured.
But without further ado, Qrow dramatically opens a set of double doors and reveals the visual majesty that is the Kingdom of Mistral, which we’ve only got a glimpse of last season. What follows is a slow montage of Qrow describing the markets of Mistral accompanied by 2-dimensional still-frame animation with minimal camera movement. It’s notable that the people in the marketplace are just as diverse as the show has ever shown a group of people; perhaps even more so than the Blake Character Short depiction of Menagerie, since basically every on-screen person there was Faunus. In this moment in Mistral, there are Faunus and human smiling together. And basically all skin color variations are shown as well; though that’s a statement of diversity for our benefit since the only racial discrimination seen in the world of Remnant is humanity’s often ghastly treatment of the Faunus.
We also see our first ‘canon’ gay couple in this motionless montage, though it’s two non-characters, unfortunately. Super subtle there Rooster Teeth, I see that plant. I’ll come back to the LGBTQ+ aspect of this episode/the show a little later.
We then get a look at Weiss Schnee (voiced by Kara Eberle) who is still en-route to Mistral, having bribed a pilot (voiced by Richard Norman) to get her the hell outta Atlas at the end of last season. Weiss is now without the title of heiress, for the first time since her elder sister forsook the title, and is on her own for the first time in her life. She tells the unnamed pilot that she worries about being a “burden,” but he assures her that, “you and your money are more than welcome on this ship, kid.” Weiss doesn’t look too enthused by this, but before they make much more conversation, there is a disturbance on the radio.
They receive a live distress call from a pilot (voiced by Reina Scully) from a downed passenger aircraft in need of a hero, a hero like Weiss. This moment of crossroads clocks in at 2:30 into the episode and we all want Weiss to help. But the pilot wants nothing to do with the conflict, just to do the job, get paid, and go back home. The radio then cuts out. The unnamed woman, along with the rest of the passengers on her flight, are all presumably eaten alive by Grimm. Lest we forgot the darkness this show splashes us in the face with to make sure we’re awake.
The meeting at Haven Academy I’m going to cover in one chunk, even though it is spread throughout the episode. Qrow leads Team RNJR to meet with Headmaster Leonardo Lionheart (voiced by Daman Mills). Yes, they went for the most predictable name. However, the creative team gets a little credit for subverting the expectation of a man who is literally named after a synonym for courage. Cowardly lion indeed.
After a bout of peek-a-boo gone awry, they get down to business. During the discussion they have in his office, a few salient plot points for later episodes emerge.
1) He has closed the school in order for the professors to help with influx of Grimm. Some of whom have since been killed in action.
2)The Four Maidens have very specific roles corresponding to each of the four Relics. They are the only beings able to interact with them, and each Maiden is tailored to only one relic. Summer=Destruction, Fall=Choice, Winter=Creation, and Spring=Knowledge.
3) The Spring Maiden, who has been missing for “over a decade,” is believed by Qrow to have joined up with his twin sister Raven Branwen and the tribe of bandits she leads. A tribe of bandits who were revealed last season to have essentially massacred an entire village, or at least a significant portion of it, “before the Grimm set in.”
Raven herself has never been seen fighting, but she terrified Neopolitan enough for the girl to flee the fight before it started. A young woman who cut through an entire airship of highly trained Atlas military, alone, dropped her optical glamour and fled with her tail between her legs at the mere sight of Raven. Here’s hoping we see more of the seriously dark Raven…and Neo.
4) Lionheart also brings up that the Kingdom of Atlas has closed their borders, something General James Ironwood was planning on doing in the final episode of the last volume during Weiss Schnee’s escape.
It’s worth noting that the horror of the episode “PvP” from Volume 3 was brought up explicitly by anybody since it happened. And Lionheart really paints a crushing picture of what that must’ve been like, not being in the know, not that being in the know softened the blow at all.
“Everyone was watching. Every house in every kingdom saw that poor girl ripped to pieces, saw monsters crawling over the city, Atlesian Knights attacking citizens, and then nothing.”
Lionheart also mentions that he answers to a council as far as the allocation of hunters and huntresses goes to pursue the Spring Maiden. The defenses of Mistral were tested the night Beacon Academy fell, though they are still hanging in there.
Now, how much of this discussion is accurate from Lionheart’s side is highly suspect as our friendly neighborhood Dr. Watts (voiced by Christopher Sabat) has been listening to the whole thing. For those who have forgotten, Dr. Watts was Salem’s Lieutenant who made us feel sympathy for Cinder Fall last season. He also was last seen in Lionheart’s office, though we aren’t privy to their exact conversation. He takes the time here to snidely comment on Lionheart’s improvisational prowess.
In Menagerie, we are dropped into a post-situation moment. The Belladonna family and Sun Wukong (voiced by Michael Jones) have failed to use the intelligence they stole last season to imprison two ranking members of the White Fang, Fennec and Corsac Albain. Both Blake’s father Ghira (voiced by Kent Williams) and her friend Sun are livid, while her mother Kali (voiced by Tara Platt) shows them up by not blowing a gasket. Sun and Ghira bond over their immature outburst rooted in displays of anger and Blake (voiced by Arryn Zech) walks out onto the balcony for a moment away from them all to think.
After asking to be left alone by her guard, (Because she’s the daughter of the chieftain so she’s got a guard now!) she lets out a deep breath. It’s worth noting that the first three volumes depict Blake as an intensely introverted girl. She spent nearly the whole of Volume 4 indulging Sun’s childish, deeply tactless, and tiring antics, however well-meaning. It’s been a while since she’s spent any real time with somebody her age who had taken a moment to show her some personality-level empathy. Cue the masked figure that drops onto the railing of the balcony: Ilia Amitola (voiced by Cherami Leigh).
Now, Ilia may have a minuscule amount of screen time to her name, the lion’s share of it in the Blake Character Short released as a part of the promotional campaign for Volume 5; but she is frankly the most socio-politically complex character in the show. And that’s not to say that this is a show with simple character work, because it is not. I digress, I’ll talk about Ilia later…there’s so much to say.
Ilia remarks that Blake’s guard sucks, and she’s not wrong. Blake clears up the earlier situation by stating that the Albain siblings blamed Ilia when they were confronted with evidence earlier. They painted her as a remorseless terrorist, as other than the mainstream White Fang of Menagerie. “How disappointed they were” in Ilia. Blake is livid on Ilia’s behalf. She believes that once the Faunus of Menagerie know the incriminating evidence on the scroll, they’ll rightfully turn on the Albain siblings and the White Fang.
Ilia disagrees. She’s sad, resigned. And for the third time that we’ve seen her, she lets down her walls for Blake. She removes her mask, and says, “Your plan isn’t going to work, Blake. Please…leave Menagerie before it’s too late.”
“You’re going to have to make me,” replies Blake.
And Ilia says in perhaps the most broken voice we’ve seen this episode, “I know.” Does Blake understand the terrifying risk Ilia must be taking by going behind the backs of her superior ‘officers’ to warn her friend? Surely that’s at least light treason against the White Fang on Ilia’s part. You don’t go to lengths like that for just anybody. But then she drops out of sight like the sad and quiet badass she is and Blake is left on the balcony to ponder her next move. She lets out a sigh, perhaps giving Ilia’s warning the attention it deserves?
Team RNJR leaves Lionheart’s office. They return to their accommodations while Qrow goes to get sloshed. We then see the post-credit scene of Volume 4 where Oscar (voiced by Aaron Dismuke) visits Qrow while he’s at the bar and re-claims his cane. *Fun fact, the meeting of these two is the meta-reunion of The Elric Brothers from Fullmetal Alchemist.
Because Oscar is also Professor Ozpin…I hope they explain that soon too.
And now we come to Yang (voiced by Barbara Dunkleman). The creative team has done a double fake-out with Yang’s intended destination. In the last episode of Volume 4, they teased us by feigning that she was headed to Menagerie to look up the girl she asked to the dance in Volume 2, the only person she’s ever opened up to about her search for her mother, the girl for whom she sacrificed her body at the conclusion of Volume 3: Blake Belladonna. But no. And then it seemed like she was headed towards her little sister Ruby. But we’ve been duped, again.
It turns out she was after Raven, her mother, the whole time. She’s in a gas station, that also has a stocked bar. (Why don’t we have this in real life?/If we do, where?) She asks for a drink, after the bartender questions her age, she clarifies she is thirsty for water. The only other patron there is a sexual harasser. Whose unwelcome lascivious tongue is promptly put in place.
After he crosses more than a few boundaries, Yang knocks his tooth out, smashing him in the face with her new Atlesian-built, Darth Vader-worthy prosthetic arm.
This shit head’s trajectory from punch to forcibly exiting the establishment proves once and for all, RWBY is an Anime. By which I mean physics no longer applies, and it’s glorious. Yang then casually mentions she’s looking for the local ‘Person You Don’t Toil With’, Raven Branwen. The bartender is extremely apprehensive about this, but she finishes her water and leaves.
As she exits the bar, the sexual predator, who’s now sporting a gap in his teeth, gives an indication he knows where Raven is.
Back in Mistral, Oscar goes to where Ruby and the others are sleeping for the night, and Oscar asks for Ruby Rose. Nora immediately takes exception to this. They’ve got a history of men asking around for their silver-eyed team leader. It’s also worth noting that she was the first to vocally defend Ruby when Tyrion was vaguely sexually threatening to her last volume.
But Oscar is just an awkward kid and he doesn’t mean the girl any harm. Qrow diffuses the tension by being shitfaced, classic Qrow. Ruby is not amused.
Oscar then removes the specter of doubt and divulges to them his full name: Oscar Pine. “You probably know me as Professor Ozpin.”
Extreme Bias with Nathan: What is this ‘chill’ you speak of?
• The moment where we are briefly shown the two guys as a couple was adorable on one condition: That we get some LGBTQ+ representation from our main/supporting cast. Otherwise it’s lip service.
• Yang in particular has been pretty consistently coded as bisexual. She made a comment about watching guys undress in Volume 1. In the episode “Burning the Candle” (Volume 2 Episode 6) she asks for Blake’s first dance, which she gets. It’s worth noting on the RWBY wiki, they denote the dress of each character at this dance as ‘Prom’.
• When Adam sets out to ‘destroy everything you [Blake] love[s],’ her look of horror upon Yang’s arrival is enough for him to determine that there is a love between these two. Also, the structure of the scene positions Adam and Yang as Romantic rivals in respect to Blake. It’s not the first time that dynamic happens either. When Yang is victim to Emerald’s illusion and attacks Mercury during the Vytal Tournament, Blake equates it with somebody she had feelings for (Adam) and who had turned bad. She wanted to know Yang wasn’t going to become like Adam and repeat the trauma for her. Because she deeply cares about Yang.
• Blake is the fulcrum of many ships in this fandom. And there are many. While it’s obviously not the end all be all metric of ship popularity, according to Archive Of Our Own’s statistics as of (11:31 pm CDT), there are 1,398 Blake/Yang stories to 122 stories that feature Blake/Sun.
• Newest ship is between Blake and Ilia Amitola. There is definitely some romantic tension in their interactions. Despite being categorical enemies based on their current ideologies, they both joined the White Fang for similar reasons. Also, Ilia has had Blake dead-to-rights on three separate occasions now, and hasn’t even fired to incapacitate. Though she did shoot Sun, mainly because he tossed out an insult too familiar to everyone who has heard a variation of, “but you don’t look like [fill in blank].”
• The great thing, is that the fandom speculation about Ilia’s sexual history regarding Blake isn’t the most interesting thing about her. It’s the fact that the Blake Character Short really belonged to Ilia. It set her up as a completely sympathetic antagonist. It’s the only time the show has ever really given this level of emotional empathy to their villains. They showed brief snapshots of why Emerald Sustrai and Mercury Black joined Cinder, but this was a whole new level.
• The Blake Character Short made Ilia the face of Faunus who are discriminated against.
• Her entire monologue can easily be read as an allegory of a variety of different things, all revolving around ‘passing’ as the dominant culture. Whether it’s skin color/race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, political/religious views, and everything between and beyond.
• I’ll be talking about Ilia Amitola a lot more as things develop I’m sure.
• Yang’s remaining hand having a tremor was interesting…
• Yang using her metal thumb as a bottle opener was classic Yang.
• That entire scene in the bar felt very…Westworld. I’d say Western, but the stuttering stops of the piano put it into Westworld territory for me. Also because of the deeply uncomfortable undertone of sexual assault.
• Qrow seems to have miraculously recovered. How long have they been in Mistral after dealing with the Nuckelavee Grimm?
• I’m not sure if the woman we hear on the radio is completely doomed. We see Weiss’ summoned Knight fall from the sky in the Volume 5 official trailer. Does she jump out of the airship to save some folks?
• Like Avatar: The Last Aibender and The Legend of Korra, among others before it, RWBY is beginning to delve into deeper waters in terms of maturity of viewership the longer it goes on. The target demographic that started watching in 2013 is reaching maturity. Adam Taurus is an extremely and violently abusive ex-boyfriend to Blake. He tried to decapitate her after stabbing her in the abdomen and striking down his romantic rival (Yang) to make a point to her. Because he could tell with a glance that Yang was somebody Blake loved.
• Yang was sexually harassed this episode, and had to physically stop him from assaulting her. The bartender wasn’t going to get involved. Last Volume, Tyrion’s entire persona gave off sexually predatory vibes, especially towards Ruby. Which is why it was a brilliant stroke by the writers for Nora to stand up to him before the guys of team RNJR.
• I’m not upset about the tone change, I’m not. But as these sorts of things become more prominent, I hope the writers of this beloved show gives each of these aspects the respect, perspective, and care they demand. So far, I think they’re doing well. But I’m also cautious. I’ve been let down too hard by tactless television writers in the last few years to be anything else.
See y’all next week.